Sunday, September 25, 2011

Man Bites Shark Bites Dog

A wander through the seaways this week ...

I saw a humpback whale yesterday, leaping about by the first portside marker in the Sound. We were setting the flathead nets at dusk and I saw the whale, his body pouring out of the sea like black ink and plumes of white spray on his crashing return. Then his tail made a perfect cetacean crescent against a reddening sky. We motored out into the Sound later to look for him later but he was long gone. Not even a footprint.

I saw a stingray in the shallows too, that eve. As big as the Turkish rug in my living room, ranging along the nets, its body speckled with white paisley. I'd know that pattern, if ever I saw it again.

In the morning, we pulled up the Harbour nets to find a littler ray with its stinger bitten clean off. Its body was sliced open with little bleeding arcs. Sharper than any filleting knife, that mystery shark's teeth. Salmon trout lined up in the mesh with only their heads left.

"Bronzy," said Old Salt.

Sometimes the crab pots are full of carapaces and chewed-up claws. It usually means an octopus has got in, or maybe a leather jacket; they eat crabs too. The crabs get caught up in the nets when they go in after the herring. Sometimes the flathead nets come up with row upon row of heads and no bodies. That's the seal.

Mr Yin told me a story about watching a great white shark circling Seal Rock. You can see Seal Rock from the lookout on Marine Drive. It is a rounded piece of granite close to the coast where an old bull hangs out, his doe harem lolling around him in the surging swell. Mr Yin said this shark circled the rock for an age, hungry-like, round and round that big round rock, waiting for that old man seal to make just one mistake.

There is a five metre great white in the Sound that has been making people uncomfortable this week. He's had a go at a few boat propellers and gone along Grievous' squid lines, stealing the bait, jigs and all. Five metres. My friends who sea kayak on Sundays are sticking to the Harbour. "Are there any mussels on the shipwreck at the moment?" I ask them. One is a piscatarian, the other a confirmed meat eater. I don't think they even noticed the mussels.

To have a crack at the title of this meandering post ... my Dad came home from the fish factory one day, chucked me into the Kingswood and said, "Come and have a look at this." We drove back to the factory and he walked me into the freezer room.

It was the size of a gymnasium, with racks against the walls full of salmon or sardines or whatever was going on at the time. My wet shoes stuck to the icy floor. I can't remember the other fish. All I remember was seeing the shark, frozen solid and lying upon carpenters tressels like an exhibit right in the centre of the room. Its skin was black (and I still don't know whether this was because it was frozen) and it was the most beautiful creature I'd ever seen.

Dad said, "See if you can touch both its eyes."
I couldn't. When I stretched out my ten-year-old arms across the head of the creature, I couldn't reach both of its eyes at once. Then he said that when the fisherman cut it open, he'd found a kid's tricycle and half of a dog inside its stomach.


  1. Jesus! That was one big shark! Must have been one of those big bastards that got fat off the whale carcasses at the whaling station. I remember the chunks taken out of those carcasses.

    We were surfing the other day and everyone suddenly got out of the water. I was further around and didn't see what they did, but I figured I should get out too. It was only a seal. But even the young guns are a bit nervous after that guy got taken at Dunsborough the other day.

  2. Yes, everyone around here is a bit spooked as well. Apparently this big guy is a bit hungry!

    I remember Dad telling me about kayaking in the Sound and seeing a GW rise beside him in the water, bigger than his canoe ... mmm ... interesting moment.

    Re the whaling station, this was a few years later but catching Great Whites was still legal.

  3. That'll teach the dog to try and ride a tricycle across water!

  4. Very cool stories. Occasionally here we get very large GW's going lone territorial, they name them, Brutus was a stayer. I was told we get GW's coming across from Tasmania to Foveaux, there is a warmer current, as the temperature rises they get more hungry, anecdotes.
    I eyeballed a Bronzie, seemed busy at the time.

  5. Terrific stories, Sarah. I am impressed that the net marauders are identified by the damage they do, as though they've left fingerprints at the scene! That shark is very big and very scary. I'm glad everyone is being cautious while a critter like that is around.
    I was over on the west coast recently and a friend was showing me around. She didn't want to take me to Bunker's because there was still a lot of activity there after the last attack, so we went to Meelup. No sooner had I arrived home than I heard there's been a sighting there. Seems to be a lot of GW around at the moment. Do they follow the whales?

  6. Incredible, sends shivers down my spine!
    Chris -- you made me chuckle :-)

  7. You could be right about the whales BT and their babies ... but I know the flathead nets have been left alone lately, so maybe that old bull seal is too scared to get off his rock!
    Thank Goodness for busyness, Merc! I remember that Dunedin waters were a bit of a great white highway too.